Left of the Dial: The last bastion of radio by people.
by Bob Pomeroy
Have you heard that Tom Petty song about the last DJ? Driving around the USA it really is hard to tell where you are just by the songs playing on the radio. So many stations are owned by the same media conglomerates, playing the same playlists dictated by the home office. The only way you can tell where you are is if the commercials are for Tampa weight loss clinics or San Diego laser hair removal clinics. Commercial radio is one huge, homogenous, Clear Channel monster.
But Tom Petty got it wrong. The last DJ who plays what he wants to play isn’t spinning on a Clear Channel station in Mexico! There are stations scattered across the country playing music selected more often because they like the tunes than because of consultants and tip sheets. You can find these stations jammed over on the extreme left-hand side of the dial. They are generally rather low powered College and Community radio stations. College radio plays a huge role in developing new talent. It’s these stations that take a chance on new artists and independent releases. College radio stations play a crucial role in making places like Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta perpetually fertile ground for new sounds. College stations often give local talent a platform to reach their community and develop a fanbase they can take on the road.
I live in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay area has the colleges but it doesn’t have real College radio. Oh, we have WUSF playing classical music, moldy jazz and NPR news, but the only rock on bay area college radio is shunted to little “stations” that don’t even cover the entire campus. In Tampa, the independent choice on the radio dial is WMNF 88.5 FM. WMNF mainly plays a mix of folk, blues, R&B and news shows during the day. It’s good programming, but nothing to make a youthful rocker’s heart beat any faster. Things just got better though. In late January, 11th Hour hit the airwaves.
11th Hour is a new beginning for innovative, alternative, provocative, postmodern sounds at WMNF. It picks up the torch dropped by the old Underground Circus strip and takes provocative music into the 21st Century. 11th Hour is a strip of shows that run Sunday through Thursday from 11pm until 1am. This is music by fans sent out over the airwaves for fans. It’s about playing good music, not about selling laxatives and shampoo.
11th Hour is a collective of unique individuals bringing their distinct personalities and perspectives to the airwaves. Kamran Mir plays in y’allternative band Urbane Cowboys, and spins at the Castle while Lindsay Malinowski got knocked out in a mosh pit. They alternate on Sunday nights. Stephen Hammill plays in a band called Life of Pi and Paul Mallett DJs in Ybor City nightclubs. They share duties on Monday nights. David Bailey (Tuesday), Scott Imrich (Wednesday), and Brother Fire (Thursday) have logged countless hours on graveyard shift freeform shows before moving up to semi-prime time. All of the DJs are young, enthusiastic music lovers. All of the DJs are well connected to the local music scene and are very aware of national and international trends. The 11th Hour DJs build on each other’s strengths to give you 30 hours of consistently high quality, innovative and entertaining radio. The DJs’ one line definition of what they play is “music you should be hearing, but don’t.”
If you live in West Central Florida, you can check out 11th Hour to hear what real commercial free modern music sounds like. If you don’t live near Tampa, start searching the extreme left of your radio dial. That’s where the good stuff is usually hiding. Do a little research. Find out if there is a college or community station somewhere around you. Real radio by real people is out there. It’s not just coming from pirate stations and Tom Petty’s friend down in Mexico.
To find out more about 11th Hour check out the WMNF web site or join the unofficial 11th Hour fan group on Yahoo.
Full Disclosure: The author of this piece is a former WMNF DJ who was once a part of the old Underground Circus. In other words, his opinions could very well be biased.